Laura Spencer

Arts Reporter

Laura Spencer caught the radio bug more than a decade ago when she was asked to read a newscast on the air on her first day volunteering for KOOP, the community radio station in Austin, Texas. 

After moving home to Kansas City, she learned the fine art of editing reel-to-reel tape as an intern and graduate assistant with the nationally syndicated literary program New Letters on the Air. Since 2001, she's focused her efforts on writing and producing feature stories as KCUR's Arts Reporter. 

In 2011, Laura was one of 21 journalists selected for USC Annenberg’s seventh National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater. She's received awards from the Associated Press, Kansas City Art Institute (Excellence in Visual Art and Education), Kansas City Association of Black Journalists, Missouri Broadcasters Association, Radio-Television News Directors Association (regional Edward R. Murrow Award) and Society for Professional Journalists. 

Ways to Connect

Laura Spencer / KCUR

On July 17, 1981, about 2,000 people gathered at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri, for a dance. What followed was one of the most deadly structural failures in American history.

Shortly after 7 p.m., two 32-ton skywalks collapsed — the fourth-story walkway fell on to the second-story walkway and both crashed into the lobby. The toll: 114 killed, 200 injured. 

Now, more than 30 years later, a memorial honors those who died and recognizes the contributions of the first responders. At a dedication ceremony Thursday morning for the Skywalk Memorial Plaza, many personal stories were shared.

Writer and teacher Sandra Moran died on Saturday, November 7, at the age of 46, after a brief battle with cancer.

Moran was born in Topeka, Kansas, on Dec. 20, 1968, and grew up in Dover. She earned three degrees from the University of Kansas: a bachelor's degree in journalism, and master's degrees in public administration and in anthropology. 

After months of racial tension on the University of Missouri campus in Columbia and an escalation in faculty and student protests, including a hunger strike and a boycott by football players, Tim Wolfe, University of Missouri System president, resigned Monday morning.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

The arrival on Monday morning of the city's first working streetcar in more than 50 years was overshadowed by the Royals' World Series victory. But dozens of residents, city officials, and transit leaders, gathered in the River Market to watch streetcar #801 roll onto the tracks.

"I don't think I could find anything to make me any happier, frankly," says Kansas City Mayor Sly James.

Courtesy of Reynolda House Museum of American Art

Artist Thomas Hart Benton was a larger-than-life figure. A muralist who's well-known in Missouri, where he was born and lived the last three decades of his life — he's not as familiar as he once was outside the Kansas City area.

But that's starting to change. 

Laura Spencer / KCUR

A love of the arts doesn’t fade as we age. But getting older – and less mobile – presents some challenges for seniors who still want to experience arts and cultural events.

For our series Aging in Place, a few local seniors shared strategies for connecting with the arts — such as looking for new sources of transportation, reaching out to arts opportunities at home and volunteering.

Getting active in the arts in retirement

Todd Rosenberg Photography

It's been a decade since Michael Stern started his appointment as the fourth music director of the Kansas City Symphony.

Stern's contract with the Symphony was up in June 2016, and it was not a given that he would choose to stay. But officials announced Wednesday that his contract has been extended through the 2019 - 2020 season.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Iris Appelquist's latest collection of poems "where we were we were there" was published in March. It's the third book in Prospero's POP poetry series, releasing a chapbook each month by Kansas City area poets until the end of 2015. 

A Kansas City native, Appelquist is not only a poet — she's also a single mother. And the poems in the collection explore what she describes as "the mystifying process of personal growth."

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Eighth Street Tap Room, a bar at 8th and New Hampshire in Lawrence, Kansas, hosts poetry readings each month in a dimly lit basement. As poets take the stage, they're cast in a reddish light, with gold streamers as backdrop.

Sunday's event started with a short open mic session, and then three featured poets. The final reader of the night: Hadara Bar-Nadav, an associate professor of English at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. 


Hallmark Cards Inc. announced a reorganization plan on Tuesday to create three new — and separate — businesses out of Hallmark North America. 

According to company officials, it's time to move beyond operating as "one big organization."

The move comes after hundreds of layoffs during the summer.

flickr user Justin Waits

Kansas City will host the national convention for Shriners International in 2020.

Shriners International, Visit KC, and Mayor Sly James announced the news on Thursday.

An estimated 20,000 visitors are expected to attend, staying in thousands of hotel rooms. An expected financial boost is nearly $18 million. 

"Kansas City has all the facilities we need and a first-class convention center," said Jeff Sowder, imperial potentate with Shriners International, in a release.

Courtesy photo / Belger Crane Yard Studios

Kansas City artist Peregrine Honig spent time this year in artist residencies — one in China, and, an unofficial one, closer to home at the Hotel Phillips. 

Some of the drawings and prints she created will soon be on display in a replica hotel suite — inside the Belger Crane Yard gallery. Sexuality and vulnerability, power and luxury — and privacy all collide in a new multimedia installation called Suites

courtesy Kansas City Irish Center

The luck of the Irish was with two arts organizations this past weekend at the 13th annual Kansas City Irish Fest at Crown Center.

The Irish Center of Kansas City kicked off a $3.5 million capital campaign for a new home. Festival officials matched on-site donations with a check for $125,000 for the non-profit, which has been housed in the lower level of Union Station since 2007. Also at the festival, a new company, Irish Repertory Theatre, announced its inaugural season. 

Laura Spencer / KCUR

William Trowbridge is Missouri’s third poet laureate. He was appointed to a two-year term, and that was three years ago. But, he says, he continues to serve because he hasn’t been told to stop — yet.

When Trowbridge first took on the role, he was asked to write a poem about Missouri. He didn’t want to write a typical “I love my state poem,” so he came up with something else: "Unofficial Missouri Poem."

courtesy Grand Arts

After a 20-year run in the Crossroads Arts District, this First Friday will be the last for Grand Arts. The closing reception for the exhibition "Universe of Collisions," by The Propeller Group, a collective based in Vietnam and California, marks the end of the non-profit arts residency venue.

Founder Margaret Silva announced plans last year to donate the Grand Arts building, a former auto shop at 1819 Grand Boulevard, to the Kansas City Art Institute for its graduate program.

courtesy of A to Z Theatrical Supply and Service

After five decades in the Waldo neighborhood of Kansas City, A to Z Theatrical Supply and Service has moved to a long-vacant building in east Brookside. 

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Mike Wilson, of Independence, Missouri, has a hectic schedule — he works long hours as a mail delivery driver, and he's married with three kids (with one more on the way).

So Wilson sneaks in time to write when he can.

"Late, really really late, or really really early," he explains. "(I write) before they're awake, or when they're asleep, when I get home."

Wilson’s work has been published in literary magazines such as The Allegheny Review and Midwestern Gothic, as well as on Tweed’s fiction blog.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

The deadline has passed, and two proposals are in, but it may be a while before there's a decision on the fate of Kemper Arena in Kansas City's West Bottoms.

City Council Economic Development Chair Scott Taylor says city staff is vetting the proposals to make sure they are complete and thorough. Until that is determined, limited information about the two applicants will be released.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

With its new production of West Side Story, Spinning Tree Theatre takes an intimate approach to a large classic musical.

It’s thought to be the first in Kansas City with an all-local, all-professional cast. And while maintaining the original choreography, two veteran cast members are putting their own stamp on it. 

Courtesy SFS Architecture

The Johnson County Board of County Commissioners Thursday will get a design update for the Arts and Heritage Center in a 1960s-era building in Overland Park, Kansas. 

The county bought the former King Louie West at 8788 Metcalf in 2011. Now, instead of ice skating and bowling, the facility is slated to house the Johnson County Museum, parks and recreation classes, and Theatre in the Park musicals.

Missouri Department of Tourism, via flickr

An anonymous donor has given the Kansas City Art Institute a gift of $25 million. It's the largest in the school's history and believed to be one of the largest donations to any arts college in the country.

The Greater Kansas City Community Foundation presented the record-setting donation to the school at a private ceremony Tuesday. Debbie Wilkerson, president and CEO of the foundation, said in a press release, "The gift comes from a donor who has the highest confidence in the Kansas City Art Institute, and therefore, wants to demonstrate that support financially."

Laura Spencer / KCUR

"I think once you start writing — and you really love it — you can't stop doing it," says Andrew Gordon Rogers, who graduated with a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

"Every form that I can think of, you know I've tried short stories, poetry, non-fiction, creative non-fiction, and it's all fun to me." 

Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art

Kansas City residents who'd like to experience nature in air-conditioned comfort have the option to do just this inside the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art. Three site-specific installations on display through September explore "what we have taken from nature and what we do to nature," says executive director Bruce Hartman.

courtesy of the artist

If you’ve driven through downtown Kansas City recently, you’ve probably seen the orange cones from the streetcar construction. But what about that blue petticoat at the top of a street sign, or the brightly colored quilts wrapped around bus shelters? 

Art installations and performances return this summer to Kansas City's downtown loop. 

"Everyone get in their starting positions," calls out dancer Maura Garcia, as she shakes a rattle. 

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Artists for the East Ninth Street Project in Lawrence were announced Tuesday – and all have ties to Kansas or Missouri. The project calls for streetscape improvements and art along 9th Street from downtown to the city’s east side, to help make the corridor more walkable and bike-friendly.  

Kansas City Art Institute

The Kansas City Art Institute's ceramics department dates back to the 1960s – and has a storied history, with larger than life professors who shaped the program like Ken Ferguson, Victor Babu and George Timock. 

This summer, Kansas City firms Helix and McCown Gordon Construction collaborated on a $750,000 renovation of "the old kiln room." 

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Writer and poet Billy Brame majored in acting, and it's shaped his performances at readings and slams around Kansas City. Brame describes his style as silly, in the same vein as Shel Silverstein, and you'll hear that in his two poems — about politics, sort of, and bacon and dinosaurs.  

"I like whimsy, whimsy is where I'd squarely put these," says Brame. "I like just being the nonsense guy, the whimsy guy, wherever I land."

Julie Denesha / KCUR

For two decades, Henry W. Bloch, co-founder of H&R Block, and his wife Marion, collected what they described as "pretty pictures" — mostly French Impressionist works by the likes of Degas, Matisse, and Monet. Nearly 30 of these paintings filled the walls of their Mission Hills, Kansas home.

Although these masterworks are not there now — you wouldn't know it by looking. 

The Blochs started collecting art in the 1970s for a very practical reason. "My wife and I had a home and we needed pictures in it," he recalls. 

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Monique Gabrielle Salazar is a writer, artist and musician. A member of the Latino Writers Collective, she’s also a self-described “collector of nostalgia.”

Here, she reads four poems in a series:

Courtesy photo / Kansas City Young Audiences

With a national spotlight on issues of racism and inequality — including protests after police shootings of unarmed black men and removal of the Confederate battle flag in some public places — jazz vocalist Lisa Henry says she wants to encourage more conversation in Kansas City with a new work called "Dear White People: The Racism Monologues Set to Music."